Astronomy is a great hobby. You learn loads of stuff about the Moon, the Planets, the stars, galaxies and the universe. You get a sense of our place in the great scheme of things and when you do that with friends and colleagues, it can be a very social hobby too. If you want to go further, advanced Amateurs Astronomers can help out the professionals.
So, you're interested. What do you do?
Here are my top tips to help you avoid any gotchas.
1. Sure, I'll just buy a telescope
Do not go and buy anything just yet! It might seem a good idea to buy the telescope in the Camera Shop window but just hang on to your money for a little while longer - you can then spend it more wisely and with a bit more background knowledge.
2. OK, bad idea - what's next?
Join a club. There are many clubs around Ireland with very helpful members of all ages. They have already bought binoculars and telescopes. They're a friendly bunch and will let you use them and explain the different types. You'll find a map of all the clubs in Ireland on this site.
You can then figure out what will suit you best. Club members will also show you how to use any equipment you have and will help you get the best out of it. They'll show you around the night sky and tell you their favourite sights over a mug of hot tea. Perfect!
3. I like that idea - anything else?
Buy an Astronomy magazine. Good newsagents and bookshops sell monthly astronomy magazines. They are full of information and will give you an idea of what to look at in the sky, what to use and how much it will cost. They all have regular reviews of astronomical equipment and they'll tell you what the best value is.
4. Can I get more info from other amateurs?
Sure! Join the Irish Astronomy boards - its free and we have contributors Nationwide. Lots of amateur astronomers hang out at www.irishastronomy.org. There are plenty of friendly folks there who will answer all your questions and will help you make decisions on buying equipment - and all within a few hours of posting your question. They also help you find a club, arrange observing sessions and even organise solar eclipse trips!
5. Anything else you'd recommend?
Once you get into Astronomy, you might find yourself going to Astronomy events in Ireland to hear International speakers, helping out the professionals and especially helping out new beginners that were just like you once. It's a very rewarding hobby. I would recommend it to everyone of any age.
If you need any more information, feel free to drop me a line anytime.
Good luck and clear skies!